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Jim Balsillie, Gary Bettman and the Future of the Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes are in trouble.  The bankruptcy filing that was filed yesterday in bankruptcy court shows that much.  Former owner, now that the NHL has seized control of the team from him, Jerry Moyes has lost about $100 million dollars in this team since it was moved to Phoenix.  There is a white knight though, in Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balisilie, who has pleged to buy the Coyotes for $212.5 million.  The deal is contingent on him being able to move the team to an unserved market in Southern Ontario.

Haven't we seen this all before though.  Balsillie has tried to do this twice now, first with the Pittsburgh Penguins and then again with the Nashville Predators.  Both times, the league has stepped in and said that the league will control whether the team will move and where the team will move to.   This has angered Balsillie to no end, he withdrew his bid for the Penguins and wasn't given the bid by the Predators.

Balsillie has started to make his public plea for support.  He started a website yesterday,, and has generally a large backing of disenfranchised Canadians that feel that the game should have never of expanded below the Mason-Dixon line.  He also would have the unofficial support of the Paul Kelly and the Players Union who would like to see another team in Canada.

Here's where it gets messy.  This sale is contingent on the movement of the team to Southern Ontario.  Where in Southern Ontario is really unknown.  Balsillie has always wanted to move a team to Hamilton and Hamilton would be the readiest location for next season.  The obvious problem with Hamilton would be the competition against the Maple Leafs, there is a reason why I left out the Sabres.   For the Coyotes to move Hamilton, they would have to pay the Maple Leafs territorial rights and possibly the Sabres as well.  The Sabres could be left out in the rights fees due to the fact that Hamilton is outside of the 80 km zone that is considered for the rights fees.

If the bankruptcy court feels that they cannot force the team to move in Southern Ontario, the deal will fall through and the next best deal, most likely a deal that Bettman was working on with Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, would be in play.  The league is going to try and fight the legality of the team being able to file for bankruptcy because of the fact they claim they were the managers of the team at the time.  The back room dealings of this deal is very, very shady and will become very ugly between Bettman and Balsillie before it gets resolved.  I feel that if Bettman loses this deal, he will most likely lose his spot as commissioner.

The main question for us is how will a team in Southern Ontario will affect the Sabres.  According to management, approximately 20% of Sabres fans come from Southern Ontario.  Honestly, I highly doubt that figure but without any other sort of proof I have to believe it.  The Sabres will be fine though.  The Hamilton market is full of hockey fans to begin with and if any of them were Sabres fans, I would hope that it would take more than the new team in town to sway most of them.  Most of the fans that come from Southern Ontario though have to be Leaf fans and most of them would still bleed blue and white.

All in all, this whole process is going to take at least the month of May.  If I am not mistaken, this has to be cleared up by June 30th for the start of next season.  At least it makes the offseason that much more interesting.